Les voyages de la mode - une femme d'un certain âge

Les voyages de la mode

Some women are fortunate enough to develop and hone their personal style from a very early age. They know what they like, and they stick with it. Some of us flounder a bit more, not trusting when a certain style or garment speaks to us, perhaps because someone in whom we’ve vested authority steered us in another direction or perhaps because we’re not yet confident enough to march to our inner beat when it goes against current wisdom. We launch ourselves on one style odyssey after another.

But like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, who realizes only after her lengthy travails that she’s had the power to go home all along, I’ve come to realize that while my innate style sense has been trying to guide me, I’ve often been allowing various style blogs and InStyle and How To Not Look Old and Sex & the City and a plethora of books and articles on how to have _______ style (trend du jour, fill in the blank) to overpower that inner voice. I’ve often searched for my style somewhere over the rainbow, when it’s been right there with me the whole time.

“Classic With a Twist” is my Kansas. The pieces that still most make my heart go pitter-pat are simple, elegant and iconic: a strand (or three) of pearls, a great jacket, well-tailored pants, a cashmere sweater, a classic bag, a silk scarf. But I also need to mix in quirky, slightly edgy elements to keep the whole from looking and feeling too “done” and stodgy. (Emily Gilmore, Society Matron™, pictured at left, is not the look I’m aiming for!) My comfort zone is also a bit more covered up than modern norms; I’ve never felt right in tight, flashy, skin-exposing ensembles, not even in my clubbing twenties. (And I get cold!) I’ve always gravitated to Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and Katherine Hepburn as style icons while my friends were swooning over Madonna’s latest look. Owning my style has been a slow and shaky process; fear of being dismissed as drab, boring, or matronly has made me hesitant to fully embrace my classic sartorial inclinations.

And despite my lifelong love of elegant and beautiful clothing, much of what constitutes Fashion these days (with some exceptions, bien sur) just leaves me cold. Very little of what I see from runway coverage or fashion pages or even in designer boutiques inspires or generates desire. Sure, age (and attendant wisdom, hopefully?) is part of it, but so much of the fashion game seems to be about celebrity red carpet looks, edginess and exposure and those have never been inherently part of my style. Still, I often admire women who are able to pull off more fashion forward looks beautifully and organically, even when I know the same looks aren’t right for me. Inspiration should only lead to emulation when there’s alignment with our inner sense of style, those little clicks of “ahhh, yes!”

What about you? Are you at home with your style, or do you periodically travel down the Yellow Brick Road of fashion? Are there influences in your life that prevent you from owning your style? Or are you still on a search to find it?
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27 Comments

  1. January 27, 2010 / 5:36 pm

    Thank you again for a wonderful post. It got me thinking and I have learned my style by trial and error and have become a minimalist in wardrobing due to space restrictions and the fact that I like to get dressed easily, fewer choices easier dressing. Also I am purchasing quality pieces that are versatile and cost more. I use accessories to add color and fun to the simple understated classic pieces that I wear. I am short, curvy and so I need to be very very careful with fabric and cut…black, grey and neutrals play a big role ans can be mixed with ease.
    I need to ask myself, do I look mumsy/dowdy on a regular basis and have found shopping at a local boutique that is staffed by smartly dressed younger women that I can be assured that they will not lead me into frumpdom.
    Looking forward to more words of wisdom….

  2. January 27, 2010 / 5:37 pm

    Great post for those navigating the “personal style” vs “fashion” road, Pseu.

    I think it can be a bit confusing to many, since for some people their personal style IS fashion/trendcentric. My ~ 70 year-old friend comes to mind!

    I’ve realized I get no pleasure out of picking a random trend and trying to Tim Gunn it, so I don’t. I’m glad other people do because it’s fun to see the successes (and frankly, useful to learn from executions *I* consider less than optimal).

    Of course I only realized that after I’d crawled, stumbled, and stagnated my way to a identifying a personal style. Late bloomer here….

    While I was too lazy to do the Style Statement per se, I did the Cliff Notes version. At which point I decided I needed two statements, ha. [Since people are sharing: Minimalist Magpie and Contrarian Classicist.]

    Because neither of ’em prioritizes new/current/edgy/experimental, I use the Kendall Farr [“Style Evolution”] advice aimed at women 40+. IOW I cherry-pick trends that work WITHOUT a lot of work for my body type, lifestyle, coloring, and style.

    I finally enjoy what I wear and no longer spend a lot of time trying to find something from my closet to put on (instead I spend the time figuring out what to buy). So wherever I am in the process, I’m calling it good!

  3. LaurieAnn
    January 27, 2010 / 6:01 pm

    Excellent post Pseu. You have given me much food for thought here. One of my greatest fashion challenges at this time is the integration of the inner me and the outer persona. Like you I have always felt more comfortable in clothing that covers my body as opposed to that which exposes. I also live a casual lifestyle as a SAHM in a non-clothes conscious part of the state, which means I could spent 90% of my time in jeans and a sweater and look totally appropriate. But that just isn’t how I want to dress. I want to wear rich fabrics and colors, interesting accessories, and well-cut, clean-lined pieces. So I do–even if I stand out a bit. Not in a flashy way at all; just more purposefully dressed than most.

    In a way, my autistic son has given me the freedom to unleash my inner chic. Frankly, before I was able to fully accept him as who he is, I dressed both of us to “blend in.” Now I couldn’t do that if I wanted to, he’s 12 and has his own ideas about how he wants to look. So, if he has the inner vision and confidence to dress to suit himself, then I’m going to do the same! I recognize that I would be resentful of him if I don’t take the same sartorial freedom for myself.

  4. January 27, 2010 / 6:19 pm

    I don’t think of “style” much.When people ask me what my style is, I ask them what THEY think it is. I’m not interested in labeling myself. I feel like I just like beautiful or interesting or funny or basic items, as I deem appropriate for a situation.

  5. January 27, 2010 / 6:20 pm

    Bonjour,
    This is a great post on personal style. I too like that classic look with a twist. I’ve never been a big one for following the current trend, as soon as something is ‘in’ I put it in the back of my closet. Not that I want to look like an oddball I just don’t want to do the cookie-cutter thing.

    Also, I’ve always had one of those ‘curvy figures’ – or as the French say a bit ronde which sounds much better than the English translation of a bit fat), and my mother taught me to dress for my figure not the latest trend – she was my style icon!

    From the pictures we’ve seen of you, you have a wonderful sense of style! And your blog is a pleasure to visit!
    Happy day to you!

  6. January 27, 2010 / 6:30 pm

    Miss J is still a work in progress. When she worked in retail, she gravitated toward classics mixed with very trendy things. Now her day job requires a conservative look, but she always like to add some funk with layering, a lovely brooch or scarf. He weekend look has much more color and variety.

  7. January 27, 2010 / 6:30 pm

    Another vote for the Style Statement book/approach, which I don’t see as a label, but as a GPS. A friend borrowed my copy but tried to skip the exercises to immediately find her two word description. My grouchy response was: you can’t get there without thought. And you’ll keep making mistakes.

    Also, it’s especially helpful to look for inspiration to style icons whose body types are the same as yours. Was thrilled to see “Julie and Julia” because I am a Julia: tall and strongly built- and adored her clothes (and pearls)!

  8. January 27, 2010 / 6:59 pm

    Personally I don’t think my style has changed that much over the years – I tend to live in jeans! – but I’m happy with it. Maybe I dress a little young for my age and have the odd rock chic moment (which I try to keep under control!) but much better to have developed your own style statement than to slavishly follow trends.

  9. January 27, 2010 / 7:52 pm

    Pseu, I always think of what you describe as my little style rebellions. Generally quite conservative. With rebellious moments…

  10. January 27, 2010 / 8:52 pm

    What a fantastic post.

    Now that I’m 52, style issues do seem to be cropping up. I work in a spa and see dozens of stylish women each day and I realize I do not fit in with the current trends. Although I am still the same size I was when I was 20 I no longer look good in those clothes. Too short, too deeply cut or clingy just doesn’t make me feel beautiful. I attended Catholic school my whole life and I think I have always gravitated toward that look. Not schoolgirl, but rather classic, simple, clean. I feel most beautiful when I am comfortable. I mostly shop at Ralph Lauren, Brooks Bros. and thrift stores. My fashion icon is a 85 year old woman in my neighborhood who always looks amazing, and well-put together. She is so old-school that she is actually cutting edge. She is a riot. We talk for hours about design, quality, current fashion and the art of thrifting. I have learned so much from her. She has given me so much confidence that I no longer worry about what others think of the way I dress.

    Thanks for asking these questions and making me think today!

    ~janet

  11. Marsi
    January 27, 2010 / 2:34 pm

    The only time I’ve had style trouble is when I went to college. I was always a pretty dressy dresser in high school because I was on the speech team (and also went to school in the country, and I was innately a city girl, so I rebelled against the norm however I could), so after a couple of years off in my education (during which I worked at a massive law firm downtown), I started college. I didn’t know how to dress down or casually, and went way overboard. I wore sweatpants (with the elasticized leg hems). Ugh. It was during this time I met my husband, and I’m shocked that he ever gave me a second look dressed that way. Once I began working in an office again during college, I got my style groove back. Now I wear almost all black, slim-cut, with a little navy here and there, colorful pashminas for a burst of color, and either Repettos or Converses for footwear — and they are either classic black or else slightly kooky, such as tortoiseshell patent leather or opalescent taupe leather for the Repettos, or matte silver for the Cons.

    Looking at blogs used to trigger the “want” monster in me, but not anymore. I keep a small Moleskine in my handbag, and in it, I have written three things:

    1) My “Style Statement” description (Refined Gamine).

    2) What articles of clothing (cut, color, fabrication) typify Refined Gamine.

    3) Which articles of clothing I am missing from my wardrobe to complete the perfect Refined Gamine look.

    I literally DO NOT make a purchase unless I spot an item from (3). I know that if it’s isn’t on my list, then that item doesn’t constitute a “gap” in my wardrobe that needs to be filled and I don’t buy it. It has really helped me become very discerning and penny-pinching — which means I can then afford to splurge on Repettos or something else a bit more costly because I haven’t been nickel-and-diming myself to death.

    Does that make sense? It’s still early and I’m undercaffeinated ….

    My last thought is, I recognized “boredom” with my wardrobe as a sign that I might need to lose a few pounds. I am happiest with my clothes when I’m happy with my weight. I’ve recognized in the past that when I’ve drifted around shops wanting to make unnecessary purchases, the true motivation for that is dissatisfaction with my waistline, NOT my wardrobe. So I work on the former rather than the latter.

    So, that is what has worked for me.

  12. Sal
    January 27, 2010 / 4:37 pm

    I can definitely relate to this feeling – of traveling far from your inner style beacon, pulled by outside influences. But although this happens to me occasionally when a trend pops up and I jump on the bandwagon without really thinking, I must admit that my style feels very much in flux. I’m getting there, but I couldn’t say I know exactly what it is just yet. And that’s kinda fun.

  13. Denise
    January 27, 2010 / 4:39 pm

    Marsi, I agree that the Style Statement (mine’s Substantial Sensual) does a terrific job of defining ourselves, so the “want monster,” as you say, goes away because this or that shiny new thing simply doesn’t “fit”. It becomes easier when you know what you want, doesn’t it?

  14. Marsi
    January 27, 2010 / 4:49 pm

    Denise, I found “Style Statement” enormously helpful. It really helps you crystallize what exactly you love about style so that you can make the right decisions for yourself and let your “package” reflect who you are.

    That way, I can admire other styles but know that they are not right for me. Thus, they don’t tempt me. In the past, for example, I was always so tempted by Anthropologie and made many a purchasing error there. Once I realized that I hated the way their clothes looked on ME, I realized I could enjoy LOOKING at things in the store without feeling compelled to BUY them. I regard Anthropologie in the same way I regard a museum: look but don’t buy. ;o)

  15. Vintage~Diva
    January 27, 2010 / 5:00 pm

    Good questions to review occasionally to make sure that your are following your style.

    I am a bohmenian that wants to add elegance to my current look.

    Currently, I am stumbling on that brick road adjusting to weight changes at my certain age. So thanks for the jab to my thought processes when I go shopping in my closet.

  16. Sher
    January 27, 2010 / 5:45 pm

    I go through style stages. Younger days it was mini skirt business suits. Call that my Ally McBeal stage. then there was my Stay At Home Mom stage. I wore jumpers, long dresses, in all honesty they were lifeless sacks. My idea of a “good” Mom doesn’t dress sexy stage. Now I think I’m in my jacket/cardi stage. More concerned that I’m dressing my age and not looking like a cougar. Though that cougar is fighting to come out, I look in the mirror in the morning and stand my ground and say “there is no way you are wearing tulle”

  17. January 28, 2010 / 2:19 am

    I’ve always known what my core style is. However, since it’s traditional and classic I always feared I’d look matronly. Over the years I’ve learned to zero in on elements that brought life to an outfit without losing the classic style that suits me. It doesn’t hurt to look at the current trends and interpret them in a way that fits your core style. For example, I usually zero in on the color of the moment and add tops and other accessories to bring in the trend. I’m very conscious of my age and don’t want to look like I’m wearing something more appropriate on a much younger woman.

    A great post. I really enjoyed reading it.

  18. January 28, 2010 / 2:24 am

    What an interesting conversation you’ve started once again, Pseu! I have to say that this last year, especially, I’m realizing how comfortable I am with my style, and happy in having a wardrobe that works for my lifestyle. It’s taken a while for this to gel, but looking back, I see more consistency than not. Never did get through the exercises in Style Statement but maybe one of these days, inspired by all your commenters . . .

  19. Marsi
    January 27, 2010 / 8:55 pm

    Sorry to be stalking the comments section today; this has been an interesting posting!

    Janet, what you said about going to Catholic school reminded me that Coco Chanel was raised by nuns and admitted that a great deal of her sartorial aesthetic came from the austerity of the nuns’ habits. Perhaps your answer is to look to Mlle Chanel for inspiration!

  20. January 28, 2010 / 4:25 pm

    A Tesco supermarket in Wales has banned people shopping in their pyjamas, and shopping barefoot…
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/wales/8484116.stm

    Guess that is a “style statement” of a sort!

    My style has always been rather boho, but feminine. Almost always in skirts unless I’m doing housework or hard physical exercise. Trying to make sure it gets pared down so as not to look like a “mad art teacher” or “craftsy-waftsy” type.

    Main impediment in wearing exactly what I’d want is quite simply a lack of money, though I have a good eye. I’m also short and a bit plump, though a nice curvy shape. Look much better in skirts than trousers.

  21. adornedunicorn
    January 28, 2010 / 4:58 pm

    I agree with Marsi- I get the wardrobe doldrums when I’m not happy with my figure. It took me awhile to realize shopping will not make me skinny or less bored! But the time and money I put into shopping I’ve channeled into working out (love Bar Method!) and have found my closet is a much happier place. I love Style Statement, even if I’ve had a hard time coming up with my own two words, though British Raj comes close…Thank you for your wonderful blog!

  22. January 29, 2010 / 2:31 am

    This is a wonderful post, thought-provoking. I like reading everyone’s comments, too.

    I like Marsi’s idea.

    And brava! for Duchesse’s characterization “not a label but a GPS.” Good way to think of it.

  23. January 29, 2010 / 3:15 am

    Thanks everyone for these really interesting and thoughtful comments. What a great discussion!

    I can see that I’m really going to have to make time to work my way through Style Statement.

    I’d love to find some style icons with my body type, but just haven’t had much luck. The women I see in the media or know in person who are curvier tend to either go more bohemian or more vavoom with their style than I’m comfortable with.

  24. January 29, 2010 / 10:30 am

    I hunger to find my style. Loving your blog, hoping inspiration will eventually awaken me.

  25. January 31, 2010 / 3:35 am

    “I’d love to find some style icons with my body type, but just haven’t had much luck.” — Ms Pseu

    You know, when I work backwards and find someone famous who more of less has my body silhouette–though of course her proportions are different–it’s not like their style is ever something that’s an exact fit for me. [So to speak.]

    If they look good to me, I just try to file away the technicalities of *why* they look good (clothing proportions and shapes, accessory type or scale, etc) and match that up with the looks to which I’m drawn.

    I say be your own style icon!

    Seriously, though I think that’s why trying to id a Style Statement–cough *or two* cough–can be useful for a lot of people who prefer a fair amount of stability in their closet. Even if you do it three-quarters-assedly the way I did.

    I mean one can be a stickler and do allll the analytical exercises, or one can put some thought into it, then go with their gut.

    Just free-associate your head off–you’re a writer, that should come naturally! Then you can problem solve til a combo clicks with you.

    For me a big piece of it was “hmmmm, hippie chic holds appeal mentally and physically but = disaster in terms of personality and body type…but gorgeous, sensual fabrics = good…but not stately old money…so that brings me to rich but headstrong…thus bohemian luxe should factor in and bohemians love to collect experiences and items so…Magpie has gotta be there….”

    You get the picture. Have some fun with who you are!

  26. Kalee
    January 31, 2010 / 11:27 am

    Coming from a woman in her mid 20’s I can say that I often feel set apart from other women my age. While many of them jump right into a trend I may not even show an interest until it’s on it’s way out. Because I carefully weight whether or not something will look good on me, and what outfits it could possibly work with. I made a promise to myself to stay true to my style, and while some trends fit right in with that, most are not mesh-able.

    I think for my generation so many are worried that if they don’t dress “in trend” that they won’t look good. I’ve always understood that looking good was more about owning your “look” and wearing it well. I will admit, though, that there have been times I worried that I looked too “old” because I prefer things like cashmere cardigans and silk scarves. My husband just kisses my nose and tells me I’m an old soul with a great sense of style!

  27. February 1, 2010 / 3:52 am

    I must admit I LOVE the way Emily Gilmore dresses!!!! I’d wear any of those twinsets. The mum from Two and a Half Men seems to channel Emily but is more colourful! Love them both!

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